Buddha, Eid Saeid, and the Lost Cats of Dahab

Trip Start Sep 30, 2007
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Trip End Mar 31, 2008


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, October 14, 2007

His name is Buddha and he is 23 years old. Like most of the local youth in Dahab, he was born in Cairo, and came here seeking a more laid back life style. He has been a bartender, but quit after having his nose broken by a drunk group of Russians. He says he could no longer stand the smell of alcohol breath on his face, although he occasionally has a beer and smokes constantly like most Egyptian men. Then he tried being a waiter, and gave it up. Now, he has his dream. To become a dive master and move to the west coast of the Sinai Peninsula, learn Italian, and lead Italian tour groups on live-aboard ship dives. Inshallah.
Of course his given name is not Buddha - at least not given by his parents. He was given this name by his compadres because of the instrumental Indian music he likes to sit and listen to. We were accompanied on several dives by him - he helps out at the dive center where we were. He didn't speak until spoken to, but when he did - his words were witty and wise beyond his years. What struck me was the pain that shimmered behind his eyes when we asked him about the effect of the bomb last year on the area. There was just a dumbfounded resounding disillusiioned "why Dahab?" In fact that seemed to be the resounding question of everyone we asked that had been present that day. Nearly everyone there was close to someone who was lost, or injured badly. Dahab is a very small community, and the local people all seem close. They float between the same few restaurant and dive jobs, many having two or three to make ends meet. People readily point out the scars of the three bombs on the bridge as you cross between the two parts of the small corniche, and pass the super nummy restaurant, Al Capone, where one of the three bombs hit as well.
Why Dahab indeed. I doubt you could find a more peaceful, unpolitical out of the way and totally detached from modern day life place - what did it prove here? What purpose to rob the innocence of a place filled with Bedouins, dive heads, and laid back tourists - all on cheap budgets, and more interested in smoking the Shishah and when the tide comes in for snorkling? I certainly can find no answer.
We were also fortunate enough to have part of our stay there coincide with the end of Rahmadan. That morning was like Christmas in the air. All the Muslims that had been fasting for the month were able to feast, and the eve of the feast, there was a tangible excitement in the air - the end was in sight. People had a spring to their step, as if they moved just a little faster, (which by the way in Dahab, is still at a slow crawl) the feast would come sooner. That morning, as we sat Bedouin style at one of the waterfront open air restaurants, we watched the Bedouin girls parade by in their finest - fancy shiny purses, sunglasses, beaded skirts, and all the bracelets and anklets that they make and usually pawn along the streets - today worn in full regalia. The boys were dressed in fresh white galabias (long robes) riding their bikes back and forth along the walk, playing with their new toy guns. Quite the affair.
Just a note on the cats - if you haven't been to Dabah, this is how it works. If you eat on the water, you sit in an open area restaurant. There are tables scattered around, and on three sides of each table are tossed matts and pillows, on which you lounge as you eat, and more aptly, wait to eat. Nothing happens fast in Dahab. That is part of it's charm. After about a day, you find yourself getting into the same relaxed groove. You just learn, that if you want to eat, you plan ahead. (Same idea if you want a beer.) You just go an hour early. That way, by then, the waiter may have come and taken your order and if you are lucky, even brought your food. That is just how it is, and it rocks! Sorry, back to the cats. So, you are sitting outside on the ground on matts and pillows in one of about twenty five restaurants that all look the same. As you eat, you are surrounded by the city cats. You may have as many as five or six meandering around your table, begging. If you ignore them, most will leave, and one or two will just plop down on a pillow next to you and patiently wait - cleaning its paws, dozing, knowing that eventually you will give in. Look out though, when you do. The word gets out like fire - before you know it you have twenty cats at your table, running across your lap, some even boldly jumping up on the table. (This may sound bad, but actually, brushing one cat away is probably preferable to twenty flies, that seem to diminish when the cats are around.) These cats put on a great show of hunger, but after a while you realize they are by no means starving. Everyone feeds them, and they are just as intent to lie beside you and doze in the sun as to eat. And if you are terribly averse to cats, each meal comes comlete with a windex bottle full of water used to spray the cats away, although this is only effective for a few minutes. Just like the flies, the salt water in the shower, the restaurant touts, and the snails pace, they are part of the wonderful flavor of Dahab. I always wondered why I never saw many pics and blog entries from Dahab - after all there are many internet cafes. The reality is that the place is so awesome, laid back, and condusive to just plain doing-nothingness, that it is hard to muster up even the motivation to get to the computer, let alone take a picture. Besides - in your heart you know no picture or words could do the place justice - you just have to be there to feel the wonderful vibe yourself. I cannot wait to return. Inshallah.
PS - the diving in the Red Sea was awesome - we got in five dives while we were there. Probably the best diving we will do this trip, and our dive master, Remy was the most awesome. Cheers, Remy, Buddha, Joseph, and all the wonderful people we shared our week with.
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